Tag Archive | houseplants

Home Alone

House-Plants-All-My-Favorite-Low-Maintance-House-Plants-5As the holidays are coming to an end, and the cold weather sets in, many of us are looking forward to getting away to warmer temperatures for a while. But, what about your houseplants while you’re gone?! Only a plant-savvy human being can give an assortment of houseplants the different amounts of water they’re likely to need while they are home alone. But it isn’t always easy to find a willing plant sitter, and it’s even harder to find one who not only means well but has houseplant skills (returning to find that two-thirds of one’s little green children have drowned is no better than finding them dried to a crisp). So if you must leave them unattended, the following steps should keep them alive — if not happy — for up to a month.

  1. One at a time, bring the plants into very bright light and check them over top to bottom for pests and diseases. Don’t forget to look under the leaves and against the stems where they enter the soil. Problems that are very small now can balloon in your absence, and since the plants will be grouped together, those problems are likely to spread. Any afflicted plants should be treated and, for good measure, kept quarantined in a room of their own while you’re gone.
  2. Decide on a water-delivery system, ideally one that is triggered by the plant itself. Like the overzealous friend, timer-driven waterers usually deliver more than the plants need. Garden-supply stores and catalogs sell an assortment of capillary mats and water wicks that are less likely to drown plants, or you can go the low-tech route and opt for just supplying humidity (put the plants in plastic dish tubs lined with deep layers of pebbles or styrofoam peanuts and shallow layers of water.
  3. Set up the system where the plants will stay cool and get only a small amount of light. The bathroom is probably the best place since it is usually both cool and dark, and is the room best protected against water damage. If the plants will all fit in the tub, plan to put them there. Don’t draw the shower curtain unless the room is very bright.
  4. Water everything thoroughly. Soak clay pots until saturated; bottom-water plants in plastic pots until soil at the surface is wet. Let excess water drain, then group plants closely but not tightly — there must be a bit of air circulation or they’ll all get fungus diseases.
  5. Speak to them lovingly and close the door. They’ll be fine.
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Bringing Hibiscus Indoors

Over-wintering large, flowering tropical plants like Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is always a challenge. They never thrive in the living room the way they do outdoors. Leaves turn yellow and drop, flowers seldom appear. Assorted pests do appear — in droves. No wonder gardeners dream of exiling these shrubs to the basement, where they can be out of sight and out of mind until spring.

This kind of hibiscus never sleeps, however, and trying to store yours as though it were dormant may give you a rude awakening. If you want to try it anyway, keep the plants cool, 45º to 50ºF. Expect them to drop all their leaves. They will likely get bugs. And they will still need to be brought into light well before summer planting time.

A better choice is a room that gets lots of light and is cool enough to slow growth, 60º to 65º. If you must put hibiscus plants in the living room, keep them in the sunniest place, away from direct heat and far enough from the window so they don’t suffer big temperature swings from night to day. There is no point in misting, but if you don’t have a humidifier this would be a good excuse to get one. Keep the soil barely but consistently moist, and don’t feed unless flowers appear. Watch out for aphids, whiteflies, and red spider mites. If you see them, treat promptly with insecticidal soap.

Hibiscus is tough. The plants will not be glorious inside, but they will survive. Cut them back in late April, removing leggy branches and working to create a pleasing shape. New growth should start almost at once. It is tempting to set the plants out as soon as the danger of frost is past, but hibiscus is a heat lover that will be happier inside until it is warm out day and night — late May or early June.

Alternatively, treat hibiscus as an annual indulgence. While they are still beautiful, give your plants to somebody with big windows and no qualms about getting rid of ailing ornamentals. Enjoy a carefree winter, and get new ones next year.

Houseplant Survival Guide

by Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce and St. Croix counties UW-Extension

Houseplants-GettyImages-72195187-59d3a98b519de20012d7af62January and February are probably your houseplants’ worst months. While we northern Wisconsinites dream of a winter vacation in warm, sunny places, your houseplants can only sit and wait for better conditions to come to them. Winter’s short days, low light levels, and dry air are hard on houseplants. And, by now your plants’ leaves may have accumulated dust and your windows may be in need of washing. Dirty windows block even more light.

To help your plants make it through their worst winter months, inspect and treat plants for any insects, such as mealybugs, scale, or aphids that may have appeared. Clean off any accumulated dust by wiping each individual leaf with a damp cloth or giving them a shower. Small plants can be washed in the kitchen sink with a sink sprayer. Large plants can go in your shower. I recommend covering the soil surface with aluminum foil to prevent the potting mix from splashing out or getting waterlogged.

Next, wash your windows inside and out. Even though it’s cold outside, when the sun hits the window you can wash the outside without your cleaning solution freezing.

If your plants are looking stressed with sparse or light-colored foliage, try adding supplemental light. Even a table lamp with a fluorescent bulb above the plant can add extra light to get your plant through winter in better shape.

Normally, you do not want to fertilize houseplants from October through January because with low light levels, plants will not be growing. Fertilizers can build up in the soil and damage roots, or they can force plants into spindly, weak growth. But by the end of February, with the days getting longer and the sun getting higher and stronger, pinch back leggy growth and give your plants their first fertilizer of the year to help them put on new, vigorous growth.

Aloe Vera: First Aid in your Kitchen

wikihow1-e1449629575242One of the easiest and most helpful houseplants to grow: aloe vera. It is also known as Barbados aloe because it is widely grown on that island, even thought it is believed to be native to the Mediterranean and South Africa. In warm climates, the plants grow outdoors and reach immense sizes.

The plant’s fleshy, somewhat spiny leaves contain rows of enlarged cells that are filled with a translucent yellow mucus. As early as the first century A.D., the Greek physician Dioscorides wrote of the benefit of using this substance as a healing herb for burns. The practice, which continues to this day, entails snapping off one of the spiky-looking leaves, slicing it down the middle with a fingernail, 7049539727_326b3dc25a_band spreading its gelatinous interior over the burned skin. [Personal story: I severely burned my lips last summer while using lip balm without SPF protection. Knowing of aloe’s properties, I used the gel on my lips. NEVER, EVER do that — it’s absolutely the worst tasting thing I’ve ever had the displeasure to encounter and it took forever to get it out of my tastebuds. I don’t even know if the healing properties worked because I was too busy trying to rid myself of the awful taste!]

This sculptural-looking, easily grown plant prefers full sun but also tolerates as much as a half day of shade. Since the plant is a succulent, designed to withstand dry conditions, watering should be on the spare side, particularly through the winter, and well-drained soil is essential. Small aloe plants are frequently available at garden shops as well as dime stores, florists, and some supermarkets.

Happy Indoor Bloomers

What triggers bloom in houseplants? Plants bloom if they get good care — the right light, temperature, water, food, and growing medium — but the details depend on the particular species. If you can get one African violet to bloom, you’ll be successful with any of them. But if you treat your kalanchoe the same way, it will probably never flower.

The goal is to provide an environment that’s as close as possible to conditions in the plant’s native home. Some plants, for instance, have learned to face adversity — periods of cold or dry — by going dormant for a while. For many, going through this dormant period is required to trigger blooming. In the wild, plants recognize when to go dormant by being sensitive to shorter days, lower temperatures, or reduced rainfall.

In a house, dormancy is induced naturally by shorter days, or by your withholding water or putting the plant in a cooler spot. Growth slows, and the plant needs less fertilizer and water. When days lengthen and become warmer, or you resume more generous watering, you complete the cycle and flowering begins.

Other plants come from environments where light, temperature, and rainfall are about the same all year. Those plants can grow and flower anytime, so they rarely need a dormant period to induce flowering. Since they are always growing, the amount of light, fertilizer, and water you give them throughout the year remain constant. The amounts depend on the species.

PelargonZonal Geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum)

Most geraniums are easy keepers, but the zonal ones are the best survivors. They have round leaves, usually with concentric stripes of colors around the edges. And if they are given a combination of cool temperatures and strong sunlight, they will repeatedly produce large flower clusters. The most important tool for nurturing them is a pair of shears; geraniums tend to become gangly even when conditions are perfect, and they can get extremely gangly if light is scarce. Frequent cutting back will keep them bushy and healthy.

African Violet (Saintpaulia)

800px-SaintpauliaMy Mom’s favorite, today’s African violets are the most popular of all flowering houseplants. They trace their heritage to several species collected in East Africa in the late 19th century, but their appearance today derives from years of intensive hybridization among only a few of the species. The original blue and purple African violets are still happily blooming, but most have yielded the spotlight to new color tones. Modern violets also appear in white (the touchiest sort to grow), all shades of pink, burgundy, and even crimson. Generally, African violets need abundant filtered light. In summer, however, move plants away from any direct sun to where they will receive less intense, indirect light only. Violets like the same comfort level you do: average room temperatures or a little warmer in the day and a few degrees cooler at night. Keep the humidity high around your plants by placing them on a humidity tray, but never allow them to sit in water or the plant will die from fungal rot. Whenever the top half-inch of soil feels dry to the touch, add enough water to make it evenly moist. There are many, many websites dedicated to the care and nurturing of African violets.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

Hasn’t everyone tried to grow a big, beautiful, flowering Peace Lily received as a gift? 3108042900_f3b4cb17cc_zThe Peace Lily tops the list of plants that provides beautiful foliage and flowers AND is easy to grow. The plant thrives indoors and blooms reliably with minimal attention. White flowers with a stiff yellow center (similar to those of a calla lily) appear nearly continuously amid the large, dark green, oval leaves. The plant needs low to medium light (never direct sun) and average indoor conditions. Its tropical foliage looks best, however, if you raise the humidity around it by setting it on a humidity tray. Moisten the soil evenly when the top inch feels dry to the touch; reduce watering when room temperatures fall below 70ºF, and never expose a plant to conditions below 55ºF.

Why should you let Mother Nature dictate when you can enjoy gardening? There are hundreds of lovely houseplants that need care and love, and are currently sitting at your local nursery or garden center waiting for you!

Bringing Plants Indoors

by Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce & St. Croix County UW-Extension

IMGP9966It may seem like summer only started yesterday, but in northern Wisconsin, the time to watch for first frost is right around the corner. Whether you gave your houseplants a summer vacation outdoors, or have some nice container plantings you’d like to enjoy indoors for a while, keep your eye on the weather and bring the plants in before they experience chilling or frost injury.

Before you bring them in, clean off any dead or dying foliage. Look under the leaves and on top of the soil for any insects, pupae or other critters that may be hunkered down in the container. Even small frogs have been known to hitchhike indoors, and go hopping across the floor! Quarantine plants for a few days. Wasps or other insects emerge in the warmth of the house, and pests such as aphids, can spread to other houseplants.

Even though you put the plants in front of bright, sunny windows, shorter days and weaker sun will cause all houseplants to slow down growth for the winter. Therefore, don’t fertilize (which may encourage spindly growth) until late February, when a plant’s activity increases, and water only when the top half-inch of soil gets dry. You can expect some leaf drop as the plants adjust to the lower light conditions. Pinch plants back when growth picks up again in late winter to encourage bushy, robust plants, ready to enjoy inside or outside next summer!

Amaryllis Story

by OCMGA Master Gardener Rich Fischer

amaryllis 2I honestly don’t know much about amaryllis and I only have one plant, but it is an interesting plant with an interesting story. 

This plant I got from my mother-in-law in, Gertrude Lenore Armbruster Taipale, when she moved from her apartment in Superior, Wisconsin, into an assisted living home about 8 years ago.  Gramma Gertie as I lovingly called her died two years ago but I think of her often. 

When I got this plant I didn’t quite know what to do with it so I planted it in the vegetable garden where it grew for the summer and it seemed to like it there.  Then Gertie told me to put it in a small pot with some potting soil and store it in the basement for the winter.  The next spring I brought it up from the basement and found a nice place by a window in the house for it.    

 This year I brought this plant up from the basement two weeks before Memorial Day and watered it.  The plant had one little sprig poking out of the pot at that time.  Then when I had a house full of Fischers over for a cookout on Memorial Day it was in full bloom.  What dumb luck!    Not only did it make a nice table setting, but also made me think of Pat’s mom on the very day when we’re supposed to remember the dead. 

amaryrillis 1The amaryllis shoots up 1 or 2 very tall scapes with a large red flower on each scape.  They are beautiful, but only last about a week.   When the flowers start to shrivel I cut off the scapes.  Then about 4 to 6 large iris like leaves shoot up and grow all summer.  I no longer put the plant in the garden, but leave it in the smallish pot and water it just like all the other house plants. Around October the leaves start to whither and I put the pot on a shelf in the basement until next spring.    

That is my one and only amaryllis story.  Never read a word about amaryllis care except what Gertie told me.  She’s gone now but her memory and her beautiful amaryllis live on. 

Rich Fischer